Sometimes it seems that the hospital’s scientific mentality has engulfed our undergraduate culture. A sterile environment, purged of diverse lifeforms and free of conditions conducive to growth, is ideal for an operating room.
This is not the case for the undergraduate atmosphere of a college, an institution ordinarily associated with vibrancy. UR is one of only a few colleges I know of – we can include schools such as Johns Hopkins University and Rochester Institute of Technology, as well – where the student body could use a reminder as to the true nature of learning and, simply put, that kids should act like kids.
Open campus is held in April for a reason. The visiting pre-frosh are filled with an excitement and inquisitive exuberance that is rarely sustained if they choose to enroll here. They think not of the classes they will take, but of the friends they will make, the mental and emotional transformations they will undergo and the merits of breaking out of habit and venturing into a strange and scary new place, a place bigger than oneself. But a few weeks from now the river, the trees, the ground and the sky will all adopt the same vacuous white, and it is easy for one’s psyche to adopt the same homogeneous apathy.
As the temperature registers below 32 degrees, the river gives in to frightening stagnation without even realizing it, and the city’s skyline disappears as each element of the vivid landscape conforms until 360 degrees of abyss surround you and you forget who you were.
The outside world becomes invisible and irrelevant because inside the snow-globe there are only exams and grades. Studying is the key to good grades, which is the road to a good graduate school, which is the ticket to a prestigious, well-paying job, which guarantees a successful life. It’s so formulaic, and if you trudge straight ahead, making sure to keep your eyes on the ground and avoid distractions, you will make it.
Don’t dare meet a stranger’s glance with a nod or a smile – Who is this person? What are his intentions? Eyes to the ground! – lest he become something more than a stranger. Don’t veer off the beaten path, for there lies unsuccess, where one must not dare explore. Don’t even question it, for that would be to open a dangerous Pandora’s box of potential. The snow makes it easy; the campus’ 85 acres are reduced to a few miles of habitable paths as facilities’ plows show us exactly where to go.
Colleges are traditionally a vestige of political activism, but this is not so at UR. If George Bush gets sick, we’ll know how to patch him up, but if his logic is sick and 650,000 Iraqis are dead, we’ll lock ourselves in the library, stay away from newspapers and hope the system doesn’t get disrupted by any of those silly activists before we can become a (self-)important cog in it. Besides, everyone knows that significant, visible, radical protests will get you in trouble at UR, and no one wants med schools to see a blemished disciplinary record.
We memorize in hopes that we can buy in to the system more fully than anyone else, for it is those people whom the system rewards most. Instead of learning about ourselves through other people, we shun them – they might blow the curve. We take classes we hate because they are hard and are required for the “Goal,” and struggling against their wrath keeps our mind off the bigger questions and gives us a sense of purpose.
But when Friday night finally comes around and we have the opportunity to spend time with people we love or get to know someone new, the cold makes the prospects of venturing into the world daunting, and all of a sudden we find ourselves taking the easy way out. After all, we need to catch up on lost sleep or get a head start on studying for the MCAT.
It’s hard to believe that such a disproportionate number of students at UR all happen to find that cutting open people’s skin and poking at their bloody organs makes them happy. Becoming a doctor can be a confused attempt at touching someone’s heart. It makes me wonder if all these people are truly sure what they want to do with their lives – or whether they just embraced it because it seemed to be the thing to do at UR, and because it is an uncomfortable feeling to be uncertain about your place in the world.
And when we resign ourselves to accepting some course, we bar ourselves from self-examination and forget to use our time in college to pursue some broader sense of purpose. It’s not a particular major or career that I’m attacking here, though – it’s a saddening and prevalent mentality that has come to characterize the student body of UR.
An undergraduate education exists above all else to teach us to write, speak and think logically, to examine the repercussions of our history and to question all authority, because ultimately, we graduate not so much into professions, but into the world.
The scientific-centric culture of the University sends us out into the world not as better-prepared citizens, but rather with the skewed and, in fact, ignorant perception that life is black and white, that there is a right and wrong answer, that happiness and correctness can be determined on a numerical scale and that even the hardest questions of our existence can be found by consulting a textbook or performing a calculation.
Biology is the study of life. But perhaps the true nature of life is present not so much in Carlson Library, but in the hallways as we pass one another, on the fraternity quad on Thursdays through Saturdays or the chapel on Sunday, in those deep late-night dorm-room discussions, in concert venues or at protests downtown or in the powerful pulse of the river in its natural splendor. Perhaps college is the time to learn about ourselves and to form an understanding of the world as much as it is to prepare for a certain career.
This winter, don’t give in to hibernation. It’s our selves that are at stake.
Rosiak is a member of the class of 2008.